Sunday, 13 December 2009

Winter training: love it :0)

I've been back in training for 4 weeks now. It was a real struggle the first couple of weeks; I just couldn't get into it. However, I'm now fully motivated and really enjoying it. I've had a hard week this week and my legs are sore - it's such a great feeling and I've missed it! Dave and Jon at RideBike have built my road bike and I LOVE it. Up until now all of my road riding has been on the mountain bike; road bikes never really appealed to me. After three days out on it I'm now totally hooked and I'm even thinking about racing it now!

In the winter I tend to prefer to train before rather than after work. It's not always easy to get out of bed when the alarm goes off, especially when it's dark and cold outside! However, I get a real buzz from early morning rides and seeing the sun rise over the harbour makes it all worth while. I also like the huge appetite that I have for the rest of the day - guilt free!

I've been making sure that I get off road at least a couple of times a week, so we've been searching out new riding spots. We've been riding the trails around Holmbury, Pitch Hill, and Leith Hill, which is just brilliant! With the help of Pete Flynn, our excellent guide, we've been able to hunt out lots of techy stuff that has allowed me to work on my weak points. There have been some scary moments that have had me exercising my vocal chords and Dave has been keeping us entertained with his 'over the bars' antics. We're off to check out the riding near Ruthin, North Wales, next weekend. Wahoo, I can't wait!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Off season: over already!

Well, I've just had 6 weeks out of structured training; riding as and when I've wanted. It's been GREAT :0) When coach Matt first suggested it I thought it'd be awful. It seemed odd to just willingly 'let go' of my fitness and put on weight. Why?! It didn't take long though until I got used to the idea and settled in to the routine of not doing much. I started running again which left me hobbling around for a couple of days. I also started to go out and play on the bike, something that I very rarely do. I've perfected track stands and started to progress with my wheelies ;0) I've also been chasing Dave Whild and Stu Bowers (Scott UK) around Wareham forest in an attempt to improve my singletrack bike handling skills; something I hope to prioritise this winter.

The off-season is now over and I have been back following a structured training plan this week. Early morning training sessions before work have been a bit of a shock to my system, and to Dave's ;0), but it's a great feeling getting to work knowing that my training is done for the day.

This year I've had trouble with a really tight hamstring, glute, and ITB in my left leg so my 'new season resolution' is to do loads of stretching and core work. I've been thinking about starting yoga or Pilates, neither of which I've ever done before. Any advice would be great….

Thursday, 5 November 2009

British Cycling Interview

A few weeks ago Luke Webber from British Cycling came down to Poole to interview me. It was a great opportunity for some social riding and an all important tea and cake stop, which comprised of more than one pot of tea! As the photos clearly show, the weather couldn't have been better :0)

Here is the link

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

UCI World Rankings

I've just checked the current World Rankings.....I'm third. Wahoo! :0)

Ranking - Mountain Bike 2009

Women - Elite - UCI Ranking - Marathon

18: 19 Oct 2009

Rank Name Nation Age* Points
1 (4) Gunn-Rita DAHLE FLESJAA Norway 36 357
2 (1) Esther SÜSS Switzerland 35 340
3 (8) Sally BIGHAM Great Britain 31 305
4 (6) Sabine SPITZ Germany 38 300
5 (9) Barbara KALTENHAUSER Germany 32 294
6 (5) Ivanda EIDUKA Latvia 32 284
7 (10) Elena GADDONI Italy 29 282
8 (11) Elisabeth BRANDAU Germany 24 277
9 (12) Roberta GASPARINI Italy 41 255
10 (19) Ivonne KRAFT Germany 39 236

Full rankings can be found here

Friday, 23 October 2009

Hanging up the racing wheels!

Wow, what a year! It's been an emotional roller coaster and at times the pressure was overwhelming, but I couldn't be happier with what I have achieved. It's now time for me to have a break from structured training for a few weeks before my winter training starts. My evenings are currently filled with TV, red wine, and dark chocolate :0) According to Matt, my coach, it won't be long before I want to ditch the comfort of my living room for the saddle. Until then...........

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Roc D'Azur, Frejus, France

To go or not to go?! This was the decision we were still trying to make minutes before we had to leave to go to the airport. Work commitments and impending deadlines meant that I had spent the whole night awake wondering whether I should take the flight to France or go to work. Obviously I really wanted to go not only because Roc D'Azur is renowned for it's amazing trails, but it would also be a chance to celebrate the successes of the season with some of the guys from the Team, who I might not see for quite some time. I finally made the decision to dash to the airport but that work would have to join me. Oh well a small sacrifice......

It was certainly worth it, Roc D'Azur lived up to it's reputation and more. The event was the biggest I have ever seen. The expo area was enormous and the slope style guys put on an impressive display right in front of the Team Topeak-Ergon stand. I had chance to ride a small part of the course the day before the marathon, but afterwards I had to hurry back to the apartment and spend the afternoon locked up with work and a few ninja mosquitoes who took more than their fair share of my blood!

It was strange standing on the start line. My competitive head has disappeared since my structured training stopped after the European Marathon Champs in Estonia. This was going to be a relaxed fun race, but for me the words 'relaxed' and 'race' don't normally appear in the same sentence! Some start line chit-chat soon revealed that some of the other girls were also there to just have fun and enjoy the course.

The course was unbelievable: When I wasn't ascending I was descending; there was virtually no fire road and almost no tarmac; stacks of technical single track; amazing coastal views; and a short ride (or run) along the beach. It is one of the best, if not the best, marathon courses I have ever done. I'll definitely be back next year :0) Male team mate Kim Tofaute almost made it to the podium but alas his 3rd place ranking was in the women's and not the men's race (see race results below)...better luck next time Kim ;0)

The season is now officially over for me and for the next few weeks I will be eating LOTS and no longer abstaining from the alcohol ;0) Wahooooooo

Women's Roc D'Azur Marathon 83km

1 Marielle Saner-Guinchard

2 Ivonne Kraft

3 Kim Tofaute (The things he'll do for a podium spot...!)

4 Myriam Saugy

5 Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa

6 Sally Bigham

7 Elisabeth Brandau

8 Daniele Troesch

9 Fabrice Krela

10 Carole Janssens

Full results can be found here

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

European Marathon Championships, Estonia

As the plane started its descent into Tallinn airport it was clear to see that the race course was going to be flat! A bird’s eye view revealed that forests densely cover Estonia, broken only by a few roads and small towns. During the 250km drive from the airport in the north to Otepaa in the south I was amazed to see how undeveloped Estonia is. We needn’t have bothered printing off the directions because we literally just followed one straight single carriageway road all the way. The only town that we passed through was Tartu, approximately 200km from the airport!

A quick look at the course profile confirmed that there would be no climbs in this race.

(Click to enlarge)

I had a couple of days to check out parts of the course. On the first day I planned to ride as much of it as possible in 2 hours, while Dave drove to each of the feedzones. However it soon became clear that the course was not only very flat but it was also going to be very fast! Within 2 hours I had already ridden almost half of the course and unbelievably Dave was able to follow me in the car for a large part of it! It certainly made a change from him following me on a bike ;-) The first half was predominantly fire road or dirt track, and it wasn’t until the second half of the course that things got a little more interesting with the odd sprinkling of singletrack, some muddy forest trails and a stream crossing. Scenic it was, but technical it most definitely wasn’t.

The view from our balcony

There were more than 4000 riders taking part and it had attracted good media attention with Estonian TV and radio covering the event. There was a mass start with the elite riders lined up first. The men and women started together, with the men taking up two thirds of the start line and the women the other third. I was in the first row with Gunn-Rita just behind me. I knew that a good start was going to be absolutely critical in this race. The race was going to be pretty much determined in the first 10km after which there were long fire road sections where riders would be drafting and working together. On the start line I stood looking at the long grassy descent that lay ahead. This was not only going to be a super fast start but it was also going to be hectic with everyone fighting to get to the front. The gun went and I literally rode as hard as I could. It was all going well for about 3 minutes until lactic started to build in my legs. I was riding with Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) but I had to let her slip away, her XC racing clearly giving her the advantage. When we emerged onto a 5km tarmac section I had to watch her disappearing within a large group of other riders. I battled to close the gap on the riders in front so that I too could benefit from drafting. My legs were screaming and my lungs were burning but I eventually managed to close the gap on the wheels in front.

Warming up

The tarmac road led onto a fire road section and then some slippery grassy trails. Magdalena Sadlecka (Poland) passed me and a crash in front caused me to slow and I lost contact with her. I passed straight though the first feedzone without taking a bottle – before the race we decided that I should start with enough carb drink to last me until the second feedzone because if I came through in a large fast group it could be difficult to take a bottle. I used this opportunity to pass a few riders who were grabbing bottles and I moved to the front. I worked as hard as I could to pass riders knowing that the effort I put in here would benefit me once we got onto the fast fire road sections after the second feedzone. I could see the dust trail of a larger group not too far ahead so I tried to motivate the riders around me to all work together to close the gap. We took it in turns to take the lead but the gap remained the same. Occasionally some of the riders from the group in front would drop off the pace and our group swallowed them up. I made a big effort to always be near the front of the group to make sure that I could respond if anyone made a break or if the group started to separate. I never eased up and constantly pushed on.

As we approached the second feedzone I realised that I had not been drinking and my bottle was almost full. I signalled to Dave that I didn’t need to take a new bottle. I was in quite a large group of men and I stayed at or near the front. The pace was fast and I concentrated hard. I don’t like drafting in large fast groups because the risk of crashing is high. I was closely following the wheel of a guy in front of me when he looked behind and slowed. This caused me to clip his wheel and I was deflected sharply to the left. I lost control and almost crashed but I somehow managed to regain control. The man behind wasn’t so lucky, he clipped my back wheel and I heard him hit the ground hard. I looked over my shoulder and through the corner of my eye I saw the guy behind him go over the handlebars while the other riders behind all started to skid in an attempt to avoid the carnage. I hesitated for a moment unsure of whether to stop and help or carrying on riding. I wanted to stop and ask if they were OK but this was a race and I was losing contact with the group so I sprinted off back to rejoin the group. I gave the man that caused the crash a wide berth and went to the front. I heard the sound of tyres rubbing again and as I looked round I saw that the same man had caught the wheel of a rider in front causing him to crash this time.

The speed through the third feedzone was high and I didn’t want to slow and lose the group I was in. This was a mistake because as Dave passed me a bottle it bounced out of my hand. Dave and I definitely need to practice high-speed hand overs! Luckily I could see a neutral feed ahead so I took a bottle of water. Not too long later I caught a glimpse of Magdalena Sadlecka. I had finally started to pull her back. This motivated me to work really hard to close the gap to her wheel. Over the next 10km there were a few slippery forest trails and I decided to stay behind. I don’t think she knew I was there and I wanted it to stay that way until there was a good opportunity to make a break. Once we exited the forest I could see some men not too far in front. I knew that there was a long fire road section to the fifth feedzone and that if I could make a break here and catch the guys in front then I might be able to put some distance between us. I put in a burst, overtook her and managed to make contact with the group in front. I never looked back to see if she had managed to hold on to me, but I guessed she hadn’t because I didn’t see her again.

After the fifth feedzone there were some nice trails winding through the forest for about 10km. The pace was very fast as we took it in turns to lead the long line of riders. Two faster guys in Finnish team kit appeared and went straight to the front of the group. I instinctively followed. If they made a break I wanted to go with them. I knew that there was only about another 20 to 30 minutes of racing left so I took a caffeine gel to give me a boost. As we passed through the final feedzone I grabbed my coke and Dave shouted words of encouragement, “Leg it!” Ha-ha, I was kind of hoping for something a little more informative but I guessed that there must have been another female rider not too far ahead – or behind! The pace was already virtually maximal but I managed to find another gear. The fire road stretched out ahead and I could see two lone riders, one of which was Laura Turpijn (Netherlands). It didn’t take long to catch them and when we did I decided to stay behind Laura who hadn’t seen me yet. I gulped down my coke ready for what was going to be a very fast finish. I wanted to spend a little time unnoticed so that I could plan what to do.

I knew that there were some muddy fire road trails ahead and taking the wrong line could lose valuable seconds. After that there was a 500 metre finish on wood chippings. I didn’t want to go too soon and blow up, but then again I didn’t fancy my chances in a short sprint to the finish. The 3km marker soon appeared and I decided to blow my cover and move towards the front. The two Finnish guys kept darting to the front in an attempt to make a break from the group of 10-15 riders, and I always went with them. With 2km to go the single file line of riders broke and became a wall of riders, everyone wanted to be at the front! It wasn’t long before the 1km marker appeared. Laura and I were yo-yoing; sometimes she would get a metre ahead and sometimes I did. It was critical that I didn’t let her get a gap. I needed to be on her wheel if she tried to break away. As soon as I saw the 500 metre marker I decided to go for it. I looked over my shoulder and Laura was on my wheel. I tried to shake her off but she wasn’t going. I decided to slow; there was no point in letting her draft me to the finish line. She came along side me. I had to think quickly because I wasn’t sure who might be behind and we might not have time to start playing games. As soon as I heard another rider attacking from behind I upped the pace and locked onto his wheel. I put my head down and went for it. There was a left hand turn and then a right hand turn with a slight climb. I came out of the corner too wide and I could see Laura on the inside. She attacked and managed to get a metre ahead. I pushed on as hard as I could but I could not reel her back in. I finished in 7th place, 1 second behind.

It was only when I looked at the results that I realised that one of the two Finnish riders was actually a woman! She finished 7 seconds behind. That explained why they were in such a rush. This highlights two of the reasons why I am not such a fan of races in which the men and women start together. First, it is difficult to see who and where your competition is, and second the men influence the race in such a way that it is not a level playing field as it is in women only races.

Post race coffee at the Tower cafe

All in all it was a fast fun race and a great end to my season. The competition was high and the times were all really close which made it an exciting race. I have never raced for less than three hours before! Covering 89km in 2hours 57 minutes also meant that it was a fast race for Dave - he had to drive to each of the 6 feedzones, find somewhere to park and run to the pits with the wheels, bottles and spares. He is still complaining about his newly acquired achillies injury even as I am writing this! What is amazing is that the course was so flat and smooth that the two newly crowned European Marathon Champions both won on amazingly lightweight fully rigid bikes!


Elite Women

1 Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Norway) 2:51:34
2 Maja Wloszczowska (Poland) 0:02:20
3 Ivanda Eiduka (Latvia) 0:02:24
4 Maaris Meier (Estonia) 0:04:18
5 Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) 0:04:21
6 Laura Turpijn (Netherlands) 0:05:42
7 Sally Bigham (Great Britain) 0:05:43
8 Carina Ketonen (Finland) 0:05:50
9 Magdalena Sadlecka (Poland) 0:06:59
10 Linda Larsen (Norway) 0:08:23

In the men's race the one, two, three (four, five, and six) went to the hosting nation with Alban being the first non-national in 7th place.

1Allan Oras (Estonia)2:34:49
2Kalle Kriit (Estonia)0:00:04
3Caspar Austa (Estonia)0:03:18
4Raido Kodanipork (Estonia)0:03:23
5Jaan Kirsipuu (Estonia)0:03:35
6Erki Pütsep (Estonia)

7Alban Lakata (Austria)

8Andreas Kugler (Switzerland)

9Hannes Genze (Germany)

10Alges Maasikmets (Estonia)

Full results can be found here

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

World Marathon Championships

The World Champs was my big goal of the season. Fortunately I was given some time off my job at Bournemouth University where I work as a Senior Lecturer in Psychology, which enabled me to go to Austria to prepare. We stayed in a great guesthouse in the countryside north of Graz. It certainly has our stamp of approval and proprietor Gabriel could not be more welcoming, and neither could his ducks who ran to greet us every morning!

No time to relax on the sun lounges!
The marathon course was already marked so we spent a few days riding sections of it. The women's course was 84 km with 3061 metres of climbing.

Click on the image to view the course profile

On the first day of exploring the course we were both really surprised. One minute we were leisurely riding on a fire road and the next we were sent without warning down a hair-raising 1km long steep, loose descent, which we later discovered was graded as ‘extreme’. It couldn’t have been more different to the World Champ course last year in Italy, which basically consisted of two big mountain climbs and descents on fire roads. Over the next couple of days we discovered that the course was what the organisers described as ‘the most technical world champs marathon course ever’. Yikes! Although my technical skills are improving they are currently not exactly my strong point. I was eager to see the final 20 km descent from the highest point on the course, the Schöckl Bergstation at 1438 metres. A quick word with one of the organisers revealed that this was going to be the most difficult. After the long winding climb to the top, which I loved, it seemed like the course literally went straight down on parts of a downhill course. The descents were very steep and littered with wet, slippery rocks and boulders. I found myself wishing I were wearing a full-face helmet and body armour! We were passed by Oli Beckingsdale who had been advised to pack his full suss and leave his hard tail at home. This seemed to be a popular decision!

Dave finally made it to the top of the Schöckl ;0)
Admiring the view while waiting for Dave. Again.

Other members of Topeak-Ergon Racing Team arrived four days before the race, including Team Manager Dirk Juckwer (Logistical Genius), Team Mechanic Lars Hartwich (Mechanical Wizard), and Team Physiotherapist Werner Faust (Midas Touch). The other Topeak-Ergon team riders included race favourites Alban Lakata (Austria) and Wolfram Kurschat (Germany), and Robert Mennen (Germany). It was somewhat reassuring to hear the guys on the team refer to the course as ‘tricky’. Phew! There was lots of talk about the course amongst the riders and lots of people, including some of the top guys were changing smooth front tyres in favour of ones with more knobbles! Originally I planned to use my treasured Race Kings, which have accompanied me on all of my racing adventures this year. However, torrential thunders storms the day and night before the race caused me to whip the front Race King off and replace it with a 2.4 Mountain King!

Dave said he'd finally captured my best side

Race day quickly arrived and the 10.45am start time meant that we didn’t have to rush for once! We had a leisurely breakfast comprising of gluten free bagels (I have a gluten intolerance) and polenta (very high in carbs and really tasty with honey!) before driving to the start area in Stattegg, near Graz. Surprisingly I wasn’t that nervous. I think that I had relinquished the idea of my initial aim of a top 10 finish because I felt at a massive technical disadvantage relative to the other girls. Upon seeing the course my sole aim was simply to survive and not to add to my growing list of crashes! I reasoned that racing on this course would be valuable experience, something that I do not have a lot of. I have only been MTB’ing for three years.

Enjoying the climb

I was number 17 so I had a reasonably good start position. Looking at the startlist before seeing the course I noticed that two of the top riders were Milena Landtwing (Swizerland) and Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) who both finished 3rd and 4th respectively in the Trans Germany where I finished 2nd. I decided that I would try to stick with them and if possible get a lead on the climbs. I knew that I had the strength but I was uncertain how I would compare on the technical sections. The commentator interviewed the top riders including Sabine Spitz (2008 Olympic XC Champion) and Gunn Rita (2008 World Marathon and XC Champion). After recently becoming a mother, Gunn Rita stated that she would be happy with a top 10 finish.

The count down began and my heart still wasn’t racing. Weird! The gun went and we were off. Slowly. Huh??? This was really strange. The pace was super slow. It seemed like we were all out on a Sunday ride. It was relatively windy so I figured that nobody wanted to take the lead before the first 28% road climb. I stayed as close to the front as possible but with all of the riders jostling for places I soon found myself a few rows back from the front. This was a mistake because as soon as we hit the climb the pace increased. I had to weave around some of the slower riders but by that time I had lost contact with the lead group, which included Elizabeth Brandau. I worked hard to reel them in but I couldn’t quite close the gap. At the top of the road the course went along a fire road climb and into a rooty climb. This was largely rideable in the dry but the previous rain had made it slippery. I messed up and dabbed. I decided it would be quicker to hop off and run the section. Gunn Rita passed me at this point but she too jumped off and legged it. I followed her down the fire road descent but she soon pulled away. A few other riders including Milena Landtwing joined me. I decided to take the lead and increase the pace up the next short climb knowing that there was a rooty single track descent ahead. Some of the other girls followed. As we turned a hairpin I caught sight of Gunn Rita not too far ahead. As we approached the single track there was a fight for position and Pia Sundstedt won, gaining entry first. The section had been really churned up by the rain and also by the stampede of other riders that had set off on the course at 9am before the elites. Frustratingly we were catching some of the master’s men who set off behind the elite men. On one of the steep ascents one of the men literally stopped in front of me, I had to jump off and run. Milena skilfully weaved her way through and I saw her disappear over the summit. I jumped back on but not long later I was stopped once again by several of the master’s men who were walking down one of the descents. There was no way around them and they wouldn’t get out of the way so I had to jump off and run past them. By the time I had emerged the other girls had gone. This was not good because there was now a long road section to the first feedzone and being in a group would have been a massive advantage. Fortunately I managed to get a Swiss girl to work with me and we took turns to take the lead.

When I reached the feedzone Dave told me I was in 16th position. There was a short road climb where I managed to pull away from the Swiss girl and catch a German girl who, unlike the Swiss, wasn’t prepared to take her turn at the front. Instead she stuck behind me and let me do all of the work. Luckily the course soon turned up a fire road climb and on to a rooty climb that was reasonably dry and rideable. Before starting the long rooty descent I noticed that I had pulled away from the German putting me in 14th place. The course then sent us through a small café area where the crowds roared. A sharp right turn then sent me down a very steep, muddy, slippery single track descent. I skidded down off the back of the saddle and managed to stop just in time before sliding off the track where it had been washed away. The Swiss girl had caught up with me and we both ran around the tight single track hairpin which had a big drop down to the river on the right.

I now knew that there was a road section through the town before beginning a road climb to the second feedzone and it was here that I managed to pull away from the Swiss girl again. A fire road ascent weaved upwards and I dug deep. I soon caught and passed a couple of girls and not long later I passed another before reaching the top. This put me into 11th position. I powered along the top of the mountain in order to make sure that nobody caught me. I wanted to enter the next 1km long steep slippery descent well ahead of the others. I got off the back of the saddle and carefully picked my line down. Spectators lined the sides of the track and shouted words of encouragement, “Zuper!” I finally reached the bottom without too many heart-stopping moments and climbed up the road to the third feedzone. I grabbed two bottles ready for the long climb to the top of the Schöckl. This was the part I was looking forward to! It was now my chance to make up as much time as possible because I would surely lose time on the impending descent. Dave shouted that I was one minute behind Gunn Rita. Now I had my target. It wasn’t long before I caught my first glimpse. The fire road climb was pretty rocky and tricky in places so it was important to pick good lines. Frustratingly one of the race motorbikes filming Gunn Rita and I blocked my line causing me to take a different line and dab. I ran a couple of metres and jumped back on. I quickly gained on Gunn Rita and then spent a little while thinking what on earth I should say when I passed her. I decided to ask her if she needed anything, to which she replied no. She said she was dying. I told her that what she was doing was amazing only 5 months after giving birth. Respect! I pushed on in an attempt to pick off some more riders.

Not long later I heard riders approaching from behind. Surely it couldn’t be the men already? They set off 15 minutes ahead of the women on the same course but with an extra 20km loop between the 1st and 2nd feed zones. I was crossing my fingers and hoping that the first man to pass would be fellow team mate Alban Lakata. Gutted. It wasn’t. It was Roel Paulissen (2008 World Champ) closely followed by another rider. After about two minutes I heard Alban offer words of encouragement as he approached behind me. I shouted to him that Roel was not far ahead. A little while later team mate Wolfram passed, closely followed by Christoph Sauser. It was pretty exciting to see the men’s race unfold in front of me.

I finally reached the top of the first part of the climb and took the left turning past a warning sign (↓↓↓) indicating that the next section was extreme. I picked my way through the steep, rocky descent and around the hairpin. Off the back of the saddle I negotiated a particularly rocky section that took me far too close to the edge (off which there was a sheer drop) for my liking! One of the spectators gasped and my heart was racing but I managed to make it to the safe single track below. There was some fire road descending now before another climb to the summit. As I turned one of the switchbacks I spotted Oli on the fire road below. I pushed on in order to hold him off for as long as possible! As I neared the top of the fire road I caught a glimpse of Milena and an Italian girl. I pushed on even harder. As I approached them Oli finally caught me and said that it wasn’t long to go now. I asked for a rope but he didn’t have one ;0) I caught and passed the Italian girl putting me into 9th place and I stayed on Milena’s wheel up the remainder of the climb.

At the summit the course then dropped down behind the back of the ski lift. This section was littered with some pretty gnarly rocks that were wet and slippery. I saw Milena hop off her bike and run a particularly rocky section so I did the same, as did the Italian behind me. We jumped back on and rode the remainder of the section to the road. Milena reached the top of the road climb first and began the aptly named ‘Rolling Stones’ section ahead of me. That was the last I saw of her. I took the wrong turn and the Italian also overtook me and went out of sight. Oh well. I just needed to get down safely now and not chase them. I wanted to stay in one piece.
There was a quick fire road descent before the next black ↓↓↓ graded section. I turned left off the fire road and got back off the saddle. I heard another rider close behind and I hoped that he knew what lay ahead and didn’t get too close. The single track descent opened out into a wide, very steep rocky 300 metre shoot to the fire road below. I picked a bad line and came to a stop, as did the guy behind. I walked a little and then cautiously got back on passing the guy as he walked to the bottom. There were then a few other tricky sections and it was on one of these where I narrowly avoided crashing. All of the descending had caused my index fingers to give up on me and at a critical moment they totally refused to brake any longer. I had to let the brakes off which caused me to start plummeting down the descent unable to pick smooth lines. I was crashing down over boulders out of control when I finally managed to grab a handful of brakes, nearly sending me over the bars. Unbelievably I stayed on the bike. This left me quaking in my race shoes all the way to the bottom. I was very relieved to pass the final feedzone and grab my coke! Only one tricky descent remained and I tried to relax a little.

Where's the finish line?

After the feedzone there was a hike-a-bike section which was really energy zapping. I downed my coke as I hiked. Once at the top the coke seemed to give me some more power and I was able to push on hard along the road section that led to the last part of the course. This consisted of a steep off road climb that included a short run, and then some forest single track. I negotiated my way around and down the steep rooty drop into the Falschgraben. This is a trail that is almost always wet. It isn’t steep but it is super slippery. I had to dab a couple of times here but I didn’t want to make any mistakes and lose my 10th position. I was especially cautious. I was so relieved when I was finally winding my way through the finish area. I couldn’t believe that I had managed to meet my goal of a top 10 finish on such a technical course. Milena and the Italian girl had made four minutes on me during the final 20km descent. I now know what I have to do – skills, skills, skills and some more skills training over the winter. I know I have the strength and if I can combine this with better technique then I know I can improve on my 10th position. Onwards and upwards!

Congratulations to Jane Nussli (Great Britain), Jenn O’Connor (New Zealand), and Mel Spath (Germany) who finished 16th, 17th and 26th respectively. Also big congrats to Ergon supported rider Pua Sawicki (USA) on her 7th place.

Alban finished 2nd to Roel, just 50 seconds behind. Unfortunately Alban had a problem with his brake in the first part of the race. Lars (Team Mechanic) had to change the whole front brake at the 2nd feedzone. Amazingly he did it in just under 2 minutes, but this was 2 minutes Alban didn’t have to spare. Wolfram finished in 5th and Robert in 28th. A great day for Topeak-Ergon racing Team :0)


1 Sabine SPITZ 4:24:15
2 Esther SÜSS 4:24:17
3 Petra HENZI 4:27:07
4 Erika DICHT 4:28:49
5 Elisabeth BRANDAU 4:34:46
6 Pia SUNDSTEDT 4:37:25
7 Monique Pua SAWICKI 4:41:30
8 Milena LANDTWING 4:44:52
9 Michela BENZONI 4:44:59
10 Sally BIGHAM 4:49:03

Friday, 31 July 2009


Last weekend I raced at Twentyfour12 at Newnham Park, Plymouth, UK. The great thing about this event is that you can choose to race either 12 hours or 24 hours. I am no stranger to 24 hour solo events, but this year I decided that I would have a change and race the 12 hour event as a pair. Not only would this mean that I would have some tea breaks between laps, but it would also mean that I would be in bed not long after midnight while others continued to battle it out on the race course. Am I getting old? ;-)

I had a pretty special team mate, Myriam Saugy (BMC/Texner), who came over from Switzerland to have a taste of the single track at Newnham Park. We picked Myriam up from the airport on Friday evening and, guided by our trusty satellite navigation system, we got utterly lost before arriving at our bed and breakfast. The proprietor was pretty annoyed by our late arrival and whisked Myriam to her room before we had chance to say goodnight!

We discussed race tactics over breakfast the next day. Our plan simply comprised of us each riding double laps because this would give us enough time to refuel and rest between handovers. Oddly I wasn't nervous at all and I wolfed down breakfast. We then dashed off to set up base before getting in a test lap.

Base for the next 12 hours

The laps were approx 14km but they comprised of a fair amount of twisty rooty single track, a river crossing, and a couple of nice climbs (though ideally I would have preferred more climbing). Although it was dry and the sun was shining, the week leading up to the race had been pretty wet so some parts of the course were relatively slick and there were some slippery roots that were waiting to dismount unsuspecting riders. Unlike some other 24 hour events this one started with a mass riding start rather than a Le Mans style run to the bikes. We decided that Myriam should do the first lap because she, unlike me, loves mass starts. I have never seen the start of a huge enduro event from the sidelines, normally I am at the front pedaling as fast as possible to get away from the carnage and not daring to look back! I have to say it was pretty spectacular to see hordes of riders pouring round the start/finish straight. I did feel a little odd not to be part of it.

Myriam had a great start and she was soon back from the start loop with some of the fast guys. I had time to scoff a jacket potato, faff for a while, hand Myriam a bottle after her fist lap, and warm up before it was time to grab the baton and dash off on my first laps.

My turn at last!

It was a relief to finally be on the bike. I have to say I am not exactly a fan of wet roots, so my aim was to use the time during the race to gradually perfect my root riding skills and ride as smoothly as possible. I was barely warmed up before it was time to hand back over to Myriam - 1hour23 is the shortest time I have ever raced for! I reluctantly relinquished the baton and went off to put on some clean race kit and scoff more food: energy bars and bananas.

Sun and single track :0)

This has to be the most relaxed race I have ever done. Even Dave was chilled out, so much so that he delegated his bike cleaning duties to James Towlson before grabbing his bike and heading off for a lap on his newly assigned team, Zero Stamina.

Dave took care to warm up properly before his lap ;0)

It was a really great experience to be part of a team; instead of having my head down pedaling the whole time I was able to enjoy the brilliant atmosphere in the start/finish area and chat to people who I wouldn't normally see. It was cool! Time literally flew by and the race was going perfectly. We soon built up a comfortable lead over the second and third placed female pairs, which meant that the pressure was off and we could cruise round and have some fun. I did however fail in my mission to ride the roots smoothly when I took a bad line which gave me the chance to inspect them close up!

After my sixth lap Myriam decided to do a single lap which meant that I had approx 45 minutes before my final two laps. Dave quickly put the lights on my bike before I was out again. I haven't ridden at night for ages and I had forgotten how much fun it is, especially in the woods.

I handed over to Myriam for her last lap. When she finished we still had just under 10 minutes to start one more lap, but we decided that it made much more sense to pack up and relax :0) We therefore finished after having completed 8 laps each.

Results: Female Pairs

1st Topeak-Ergon/BMC Texner 16 laps in 11:51:09
2nd AKO Ducati 15 laps in 12:12:28
3rd Activ Lush 'n' Deb 14 laps in 12:14:28

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

'Wetter' in Bad Goisern

Last week Dave and I flew out to Austria for the Salzgammergut Trophy which was the third race in the Rocky Mountain Bike marathon series. When we arrived in Bad Goisern the weather was an amazing 32 degrees, but all that was forecast to change!

We spent most of the day before the race looking for feedzones, and although Dave wouldn't be able to access all of them we planned four feeds along the course. The weather was great and I slapped on the suncream and drank loads of water to make sure I was fully hydrated for the race the next day. I always do a 30 minute ride with some race pace efforts the day before a race and I planned to do this on the last climb of the course. When the sky started to darken with big black low clouds we decided to abort this mission. I jumped out of the car and onto my bike and began to ride immediately in the hope that I could get the 30 minutes over and done with before the storm set in. I'd been on the bike exactly 6 seconds when the rain started to fall. I headed up the nearest mountain and Dave followed in the car behind. The rain gradually got harder and harder and it got darker and darker, but luckily the car headlights lit up the fire road in front of me. I like rain and I was quite happy getting wet, but I'm not so keen on thunder and lightning. After about 15 minutes I decided that being pelted by grape sized hailstones was enough, I stopped. Dave left the safety of the car and took a few hits (and yelped) as he stuffed the bike in the boot and we legged it back to our apartment.

The forecast for the next day (race day) was for rain, rain, and more rain. However, later that evening the rain eased and the sun shone again. This led me to believe that the forecast might (perhaps) be wrong........that night we were kept awake by flashes of lightning, thunder, and very heavy rain. At 6am I looked out of the window and the mountains were nowhere to be seen....they were shrouded in veils of cloud. The thought of hiding crossed my mind, not because of the rain but because I hate being cold, and it looked and felt very cold! I checked the weather forecast on TV and a few of the web cams across Austria showed that it was only 1-4 degrees even as low as 1500 metres, and some of them showed snow. EEK! Luckily I had packed for bad weather. I pulled out my neoprene overshoes, thermal base layer, arm warmers, waterproof jacket, and winter gloves. I also gave Dave some spare gloves and another jacket to take to the feedzones.

I normally warm up for 20 minutes before, but I didn't have rollers and I decided that getting soaked and then standing at the start for 10-15 minutes would probably be worse than no warm up. I waited in the start pen to be called to the line. The rain continued to bounce off the roads and I was getting wet, fast. I started to shiver. I was pleased to finally hear the start gun and set off towards the first climb up to 1500 metres. My cold muscles screamed as the gradient started to increase and I gently tried to ease into the pace. Male riders started to pass me but I figured that I'd warm up soon and be able to pick up the pace. My race head wasn't on.

As we got higher the temperature dropped and bare legs started to turn red. I was amazed to see that some people were just wearing shorts and race jerseys. Brrrhhhh, they must have been frozen. I was wrapped up in my arm warmers, base layer, jersey and waterproof jacket and not once did I wish I wasn't! I knew that the descent would be bitterly cold and that my biggest problem would be my hands. When we reached the top after more than an hour of climbing the rain turned to snow. I was shaking uncontrollably on the descent and braking was difficult because my fingers were numb. Each time the course flattened or climbed I cranked up the gears and rode hard to try and get warm. Now I look back I realise that the descent down to the town was actually really nice and there was a mixture of rocky single/double track and the iconic cave pass, but I didn't appreciate it at the time! All I could think about was getting some warmer gloves from Dave at the first feedzone.

Trails became rivers

The next section of the course ran alongside a river for approximately 20km before heading up the next mountain. I thought that it would be warmer and that my hands would defrost. They didn't. There was a small section of the course that went through a tunnel alongside the road. It was dry and I didn't want to come out the other side! When I met Dave at the second feedzone just before the next big climb I stopped to put on a warmer jacket and some super thick winter gloves. The next climb went up to 1800 metres and I wanted clothes! This stop took a little longer than I expected. My fingers were so numb that my little finger kept going into the same hole as the finger next to it.....arghhhh. I willed my fingers to work, and after several attempts I managed to push them in and get on my way.

I had lost the group I had been riding with but I eventually caught up with some of them. A few people spoke to me in German and I asked if they could speak English. They couldn't, but I figured that something was wrong. We climbed a nice steep trail alongside a venicular railway. The course then descended a little before starting to climb again. We were just about to start to climb when we were stopped by a marshal. I couldn't understand what was being said and part of me wanted to dart past him and carry on with the race. It was a race after all and we were losing valuable time! The marshal spoke English and informed me that the race had been cancelled because there was too much snow at the top of the next climb and we wouldn't be able to pass. Ughhhh??? Cancelled???? Really???? But I was leading the women's race after 66 kms....I couldn't stop.

Snow in July

We were redirected back down to the town and into a lovely warm fire station. I couldn't quite believe it and neither could Dave when I called him from the control room in the fire station. A nice fireman gave me a rubdown to warm me up ;0) and we were given fruit tea.

Only a minority of riders made it to the 66km timing zone so the results were taken from an earlier one at 30km. The organisers decided that because this constituted less than half of the 114km course that the results would not be official and there would be no rankings or podium. That was it.

The sun came out afterwards!

The next day I stood in dog poop and we both got food poisoning just in time for the flight back home. Yay!

It wasn't all bad though. The sun shone again the next day, the snow melted and I got chance to go for a quick spin while Dave enjoyed a pint (or two).

Monday, 29 June 2009


The Trans Germany is a 7-day stage race starting in Erbach, West Germany and finishing in Seiffen, East Germany. The 660km route included 15,300 metres of climbing. This was my first stage race and I had no idea what to expect.

Our Topeak Ergon team of riders included Alban Lakata, Robert Mennen and me, and we were supported by our Team Manager, Dirk Jucker, Team Mechanic, Lars Hartwich, Team Physiotherapist, Werner Faust, and last but not least, Dave Padfield, my amazingly supportive boyfriend.
Lars set up his mechanics office each day

The first stage started on Sunday 21st June and we arrived in Erbach the day before. The start list looked pretty impressive and all eyes were on Esther Suss from Switzerland, who is currently ranked number 1 in the world for marathon racing.

Stage 1: Erbach – Frammersbach 102.08 km - 2257 metres

Each day my morning routine involved forcing down breakfast (pre-race nerves suppress my appetite), packing up our baggage, and a 20-minute warm up on the rollers before heading off to the start line. I was in start block A and I tried to get as near to the start line as possible. In true style I was as nervous as ever but I figured that as each day progressed the nerves would lessen –wrong! AC/DC High Way to Hell signalled the count down to the start each day before the gun was fired.

The first day nerves are clear to see!

I found this stage one of the hardest. I had no idea how tactical these races are. I just naively did what I normally do – race alone. I knew that there were at least two girls ahead of me, including Esther Suss and Nina Gassler, Kona Norway. I figured that it was a long race and that I might be able to catch them as the race progressed. I didn’t feel great in the early part of the race, partly because I had been ill (again!) in the week leading up to the race and also because my legs needed waking up! I normally get stronger as the miles clock up, so I hoped to catch glimpses of them in the latter part of the stage. Sure enough I did start to make up some time and on one of the long fire road stretches I could see Nina and the German Marathon Champion Elisabeth Brandau, Team Haibike. I was quite tired at this point and I decided that I wouldn’t worry about podium positions so early in the week, time is most important and I wasn’t that far behind them. It was going to be a long week and conserving energy was more important. I crossed the finish line less than 1 minute behind 2nd and 3rd place but 6 minutes behind Esther.

I was a little disappointed but I focussed on making sure that I spent the rest of the day recovering, i.e. eating, eating, a little more eating and some massage.

Stage 2: Frammersbach - Bischofsheim 82,89 km – 2050 metres

Lars collected our clothes at the start

I started this stage armed with the knowledge that a successful stage would mean a fast start to get in with a fast group of riders, and most importantly that I must not ride alone but instead I should always look for opportunities to save energy and draft as often as possible, taking my turn to lead when necessary. This worked well and I found myself in a group of men with one other lady, Nina Gassler. One of the guys in the group told us that he had worked with Esther the day before and that today he wanted to help us. Thanks! It was really nice to ride with Nina and I saw her as a team mate rather than someone I was racing against. I had miscalculated my feeding and when I started to run low on carbs Nina kindly gave me one of her gels.

Taking the lead

As we approached the final descent Nina took off and knowing that I was in third and that we were near the finish I decided not to take the risk of crashing in a chase. The terrain was quite wet, rocky and steep in places. Losing time on the descent meant that I had lost contact with the group and I had to contend with the head wind to the finish on my own. I finished less than 40 seconds behind Esther and 10 seconds behind Nina. This put me in third place overall.

Stage 2: Third place

Stage 3: Bischofsheim - Oberhof 94,60 km - 2696 metres

This stage started off with a fire road climb before an exposed road section. It was fairly windy so a good start today up the first ascent was even more critical. Nina and I worked together to chase Esther up the climb. When I tired Nina took the lead and when Nina tired I took the lead. When we finally emerged onto the road section Esther was in a group of guys ahead. Nina took the initiative to get the guys in our group working hard with us to bridge the gap. It was hard work but eventually we did it. Esther seemed a little surprised to have us for company. Nina advised me to tuck in now and rest. It was interesting to see how tactical the race was and I was learning very quickly what I needed to do in order to be at the front of the pack.

Chasing Esther's group

There was a fair bit of climbing in this stage, which suited me well and it also meant that it was more of a level playing field for me, Esther and Nina. In other words, there was little benefit from drafting on the climbs. I was looking forward to the latter part of the stage because there was some nice climbing to the finish. Unfortunately Nina dropped off the pace and this left me hanging on to the group without her. We descended down a muddy slippery track and one of the men in front slid off his bike. Esther managed to get round him but I didn’t and I slid off behind him. I jumped back on quickly but Esther was already disappearing round the corner. I worked hard to get back to the group and with the help of the guy that crashed we eventually caught them. We had to hike-a-bike over a railway bridge and, out of our group, Esther was the only one that rode down the steep steps on the other side. This meant that I lost contact with her again but luckily the course climbed steeply and I was able to regain contact.

It didn't rain every day!
Not long after my last feedzone I lost my bottle on one of the rooty descents and I had to ride for some time without any fluids. This meant that I started to dehydrate but I was kindly given a bottle of coke by one of the supporters of another team. This caused me to lose contact with the group and I had to chase to try and catch them. I started to run out of energy and faded fast. The climbs just seemed to keep coming and the ground was muddy and energy zapping. I was filled with relief to finally cross the finish line albeit 4 minutes behind Esther and 5 minutes ahead of Elisabeth Brandau who finished 3rd. I was disappointed to have been with Esther for so many miles and to have lost so much time in the last 10km but I was pleased to have been in contention for the first 80kms. Esther told me that it was good to have raced me and that I had pushed her – to hear this was an honour :0)

Lars set to work on my bike

Stage 3: 2nd place

Stage 4: Oberhof - Bad Steben 120,44 km – 2502 metres

I planned to take this stage a little easier. Although there was a fair amount of climbing, the climbs were short and not long and draggy the way I like them. I decided to save energy for one of the later stages that was better suited to me. Perhaps this was a bad decision – I lost another 8 minutes to Esther. Nevertheless, I still finished in 2nd place and 9 minutes ahead of Kertsin Bratchtendorf, Team Fiat Rotwild.

Stage 4: Second

Stage 5: Bad Steben – Schöneck 97,95 km - 2232 metres

Today I woke up and decided that I had to stay with Esther from the start. I wanted to see how much I could push her. From the gun I sat with her and managed to get in a fast group. I tended to stay at the back but a couple of times I pushed on and Esther followed. Dave and Lars were excited to see that I was still in the fast group when I past them at the 3rd feedzone. It made me smile to hear Lars shouting “go Surfa!” (Surfa is my nickname due to my windsurfing adventures!). It was raining and misty, which made it difficult to see at times. I felt like I was riding well and became more confident with the fast cornering and descending. The kilometres clocked up and I still felt strong. At the last feedzone Werner shouted that today was my day – I hoped so. From here on the course climbed gradually to the finish. When I saw Esther go I went with her. Our group dispersed – some of the guys went with her and others got left behind. The climb got steeper and a gap started to emerge between us. We past a crowd of cheering spectators who shouted words of encouragement, unfortunately my German is terrible and wasn’t able to understand what they were saying, however I guessed that they were telling us how much further it was until the finish. I wish I had of known because this might of helped me to judge how hard to push. We turned a corner and the course continued to climb through the streets. At this point Esther pulled away and I couldn’t go with her. I could see the finishing straight and Esther heading straight for it. Damn. There were children lining the road waving huge cardboard hands for the riders to high five. I eased off and gave some of them high fives. I crossed the line 24 seconds behind Esther and 7 minutes ahead of Milena Lantwing, Cube. Esther had said that she wasn’t sure she could win that stage and that I had once again pushed her. I would of course liked to have won but to hear her say this made it a sweeter pill to swallow :0) That evening we stayed in a great hotel and the Champions Party was in the bottom of the valley, which could be reached by a ski lift. Lars, Dave and I decided to go back to the hotel on the ski lift while Dirk and Werner took the team van. As we were half way to the hotel we managed to drop the hotel room key. We watched it fall in slow motion 100 feet to the ground. We all rolled around laughing until we realised that one of us needed to go and find it - Dave pulled the short straw and had to go back down to retrieve it :0)

Digging deep

Stage 6: Schöneck - Oberwiesenthal 80,93 km - 2017 metres

This was the stage that I was REALLY looking forward to. Although it didn’t have lots of climbing the climbs were long and dragging – Wahoo, my favourite :0)

Not long into the stage there was a single track section that was really rooty and slippery. Roots have never been my forte, particularly when they are wet and on a narrow section with small drops to either side. This was not good. I made a complete mess of it, though I wasn’t the only one. Esther however didn’t seem to have any trouble and was quickly out of sight while I got held up and held others up. Sorry! I decided that running was probably quicker so I legged it to the fire road and hopped back on. The chase was now on. Rather than staying with the group I was now with, I decided I had to close the gap to Esther. Oh why, oh why, did I make this decision??? We were only approximately 20km into the stage. As I powered along chasing hard I braked for a corner. The road was wet and I felt my back wheel lose traction and slide out. It then seemed to re-grip and I got high-sided. I hit the ground first on my right side, taking most of the impact with my thigh and elbow. I remember sliding along the road and then flipping onto my left side. This wasn’t good :0( The guys behind stopped and I asked them to help me. Someone picked my bike up and twisted the handlebars back round while someone else picked me up. The next thing I know I was on the bike riding cautiously down the road. Someone asked if I was ok and I said I wasn’t sure, he asked if I felt sad to which I replied “yes” :0( I decided I’d ride to the next medic. I didn’t really look at the damage to my body. Ignorance is bliss. However I couldn’t help seeing that my shorts were ripped open on the left side, my left leg was covered in road rash, and blood was running from my right arm onto the handlebars. I hate seeing blood, especially mine. OK, time to focus all efforts on not fainting. I decided I needed to drink lots and deny. I gingerly rode on while telling myself that blood always makes things look much worse than they are and that I probably just had a few scratches that were bleeding lots more than necessary. I got to the next marshals and I decided that if I stopped and saw the damage then I probably wouldn’t be allowed or able to continue. I carried on riding.

At the feed zone Werner saw me and asked if I was OK. I replied with a quite “no” but didn’t slow as I grabbed the bottle and gel. I had completed 5 stages of this race and was comfortably in second place overall. I was not going to throw it away and stop without a fight.

No too long later a group from behind caught me and in it was Milena Landwing, Cube. I was riding the descents really cautiously partly because the bumps exacerbate the pain but also because my confidence was at rock bottom. I had to let her fly by me on the descents but I was able to pull her back on the flats and the climbs. As I passed Dave at the third feedzone I could see he was worried. I said I was fine and took the bottle. I made a plan: stick with Milena and save energy until the final climb at 65 km. The climb was perfect for me and so long as I rested and stayed fuelled then I should be able to make a lead over the 10km climb and this should be sufficient for me to take the descent to the finish slowly without being caught. As soon as the climb began I went and didn’t look back. I passed lots of men and kept the power on. Eventually I reached the top of the ski lift and knew that it was all down from here. I rode slowly. I didn’t want to crash again. I finally turned one of the last corners and saw Dirk waiting at the side of the track I shook my head and said sorry as I passed him to the finish arch. Werner and Dave were waiting for me with a medic. Everyone was talking in German and this helped me continue to deny and pretend that it was just a few scratches. My wounds were cleaned and my shorts cut off around my left hip. I had to go and have some X rays taken of my elbow at a clinic near the finish area. The X rays were fine but showed some stones stuck under the skin of my elbow. I had to go to hospital to be cleaned up.

Dirk drove Dave and me to the hospital 40km away. I was signed in and told to wait. We waited for a couple of hours until in true ‘Sally style’ I fainted. I had seen all the road rash on my hips and thighs. Shock set in and the windows closed. Dirk stayed with me because none of the doctors or nurses spoke English. I was told that in order to fix my elbow the doctor needed to give me a local anaesthetic, cut some of the damaged skin off, and staple it. I had slid along the road on my elbow and this had cause a dip ‘defect’. I then had more X rays of my elbow and pelvis, and finally ultra sound to check there was no internal damage. I got the all clear and we went back to the hotel.

I told everyone that I would ride tomorrow.

Stage 7: Oberwiesenthal - Seiffen 78,83km - 1590 metres

Werner bandaged me up and I went for a cautious ride on the road near the hotel to test if I had the strength in my arm to hold the handlebars. I did and my decision was made. I didn’t want to ride but I had no choice.

Feeling very tentative

I stood on the start line more nervous than ever. My arm was bandaged conspicuously to look like a liquorice allsort, so I hoped no one would hit it. I had a 38 minute lead on third placed Milena Landtwing, so all I needed to do was to finish the stage and not lose too much time. I rode really cautiously and didn’t chase any of the girls. I simply couldn’t make any more mistakes. The course was wet and pretty slippery in places and this made me even more nervous. Not long into the stage I could see that there had been a crash on the fire road ahead. Some other riders were already dealing with it and we were being waved past. I could see one rider lying in a ditch at the side of the track and another lying on the track. Their injuries looked pretty serious and I told myself not to look. I rode on and pushed it out of my mind. At the next feedzone someone asked if I had seen Nina and if she had crashed. I said that I didn’t think so. It then dawned on me that Nina must have been one of the injured riders. I felt sick. Poor Nina.

Starting the final stage

It felt like a long stage

I finally reached the final descent which was pretty steep, slippery and rooty. As I looked at what lay ahead I had doubts that I could ride it, but I got off the back of the saddle and slowly rode down. I thought the finish must be round the corner but the marshals sent me up another steep road climb. At the top there were lots of people cheering and a commentator called my name and said that I had finished second overall. Someone offered me a small glass of champagne. I was confused. Was this the finish? There was no finishing arch so I figured I wasn’t there yet and carried on along the road. I turned a corner and saw the finishing arch. I had to hold back the tears as I realised it was over and the job was finished.

Holding back the tears

I think that it has only just sunk in now while I am writing this. I feel very emotional. What an intense week. I had finished the Trans Germany, beaten only by Esther Suss, the European Marathon Champion.

Me, Esther, and Milena

I have been to hospital today. The doctors here in the UK were surprised to see how my arm had been repaired. Small pieces of dressing had been stapled over the skinless areas. The consultant took the decision to remove the staples and the dressing. OUCH! The dressing had already started to heal into my skin. One piece has been left there because it would have been too painful to remove. It will now be my permanent souvenir. I have to wait now and see if the skin grows over the holes. If not then I might need to have a skin graft. The road rash is healing nicely and I might try a gentle spin on the turbo tomorrow :0)

I would like to say a MASSIVE thanks to Dirk, Lars, Werner, and Dave for all of their amazing support and encouragement. I could not be part of a better team – Topeak Ergon Racing Team.